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Doonesbury gets serious

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Funny thing: I saw the tail end of a news crawl that was something about a cartoon character losing a leg in Iraq, and I knew. In all of cartoonland, it occured to me in a flash that there was one obvious candidate: BD in Doonesbury.

I haven’t even read Doonesbury recently to know that BD was in Iraq, but of course he would be. He’s THE conservative out of all the Doonesbury core, as he was when he volunteered to go to Vietnam in order to get out of a college term paper 30+ years ago.

It makes some sense that he would get hit. Trudeau probably thinks of it as a sacrifice for the anti-war effort that he’s giving up a leg on a fictional character. Hey, Trudeau has several decades of emotional investment in drawing this character.

The series starts HERE.

I appreciate the intention of dealing seriously with the war, but I’m skeptical here on grounds of NOT BEING FUNNY. Satire and humor are what the funny papers are for. The two beginning strips of this line don’t have a punch line of any kind. But being modest still cartoons, they don’t have any kind of serious visceral impact either.

I’m just skeptical of this move on an artistic level. But I guess I will actually be watching Doonesbury closer for a while just to see how this storyline plays out.

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  • Justene

    As the token conservative, BD was always written as being dense. I wonder if, in addition to not being funny, we will get to the point where BD sees the error of his ways and becomes a liberal Iraq veteran against the Iraq war, bonding with John Kerry, the Vietnam veteran against the Vietnam war.

  • Hazy Dave

    I don’t know how the B.D. story line will play out, but in “Get Fuzzy” yesterday, Rob (Bucky and Stach’s owner, the guy in the Lowe Tech shirts) got a phone call that his cousin lost a leg in Iraq.

    Get Fuzzy by Darby Conley

  • Hazy Dave

    Just to correct a typo, Get Fuzzy’s animal protagonists are Satchel Pooch (named after Satchel Paige), and Bucky Katt (named after Buck O’Neil, another Negro League star). Their owner/guardian/straight man is Rob Wilco.

  • Jim Carruthers

    Doonesbury has done serious strips before, such as the fall of Saigon and several characters have died, as the others have aged.

    There’s a piece in the New Yorker this week on Aaron McGruder, who, while he still hasn’t done anything as solid as Doonesbury, knows that the funny pages aren’t obligated to be funny. Newspaper comic strips have been neutered and in most cases are just creative use of white space.

    If you’ve ever read “Pogo”, Gasoline Alley” or for that matter Lynn Johnson’s “For Better or Worse”, you know comic strips can be as vital an art form as teevee, stage or novels. But newspapers are so scared to challenge their audience, they largely won’t let comic strips do that.

    Saying that comic strips shouldn’t treat serious subjects seriously is like saying the front page of of your newspaper should only tell you “happy news” and government propaganda. McPravda — oh, wait, you already have that.

    Well, enjoy your content free newspaper.

  • Al Barger

    I’m all in favor of artists in any medium addressing serious subjects, but I’m just skeptical of this particular play. Doonesbury just doesn’t have the emotional depth to make this kind of dramatic play work- not that no cartoon or animation does. South Park, for example, does it all the time.

    Also, you can address serious issues other than in a directly dramatic manner- through HUMOR. That’s generally the strong suit of the funny pages. Indeed, it might be some very biting sarcasm.

    Making serious work out of BD now seems pretty cheap and contrived. He’s not a real character, so there’s not much emotional investment from even loyal Doonesbury readers. He’s just the dumb conservative token. Why are we going to care?

  • Tim Hall

    It reminds me a bit of the ending of Blackadder Goes Forth. That’s one example of a comedy that took an abrupt turn and became deadly serious, which worked.

  • Nick Jones

    “But newspapers are so scared to challenge their audience…”

    …or offend their advertisers.

  • Jim Carruthers

    Again, I ask you to look at the Doonesbury about the fall of Saigon, you remember that, right? A hopeless non-war predicted on a lie which killed thousands of USAians and millions of Vietnamese, and Doonesbury featured BD hanging his head in shame? Y’know that war?

    And yes, don’t piss off the advertisers because without them all the news would bump into each other and puke.

  • Jim Carruthers

    Hey, Al, which is less cheap and contrived: to have a cartoon character servining Iraq get his leg blown off, or have somebody up for an executive position (and not in front of Donald Trump) be able to answer the question: what is the worst mistake you’ve made in the last year.

    I think the cartoon character has it easy.

    Also, if you can’t identify with a cartoon character, it shouldn’t be in the newspaper. Now, I know you are going to get all hysterical about the termination of “Cathy”, but the bitch just has to go.

  • Nick Jones

    “Now, I know you are going to get all hysterical about the termination of “Cathy”, but the bitch just has to go.”

    I’ll second that!

  • Jim Carruthers

    In case I was too subtle for ya, Al, I would prefer the USA was run by a cartoon character than the clown you presently have. Maybe Cherchie Lafemme or Hank Grimm.

    How do you fit all those clowns in that little car, anyways?

  • Al Barger

    Yeah Carruthers? Well, our American cartoon characters can beat up your pussy Canadian cartoon characters.

    Na-na, boo-boo
    Stick your head in doo-doo

  • Nick Jones

    Al & Justene: While I haven’t really paid much attention to “Doonesbury” in the last 20 years, back in the day when I was a regular fan, I never saw BD (to my eyes) as dense or dumb – set in his ways, blinkered perhaps, conservative certainly – but never stupid or mean-spirited. If he was made to look foolish, then that was a fate only a few of the regular characters were spared – God, look at Mike’s self-absorbed, “performance artist” ex-wife: she’s received the most mockery of any of the characters in the last few years. And BD comes off better from Trudeau’s pen than any left-of-Nixon target that “Mallard Fillmore” takes aim at…

    Personally, I don’t mind a little tragicomic in my comics. It’s not like it’s Euripedes’ “Medea” or any of Thomas Hardy’s excruciating downers.(Did the man never NOT let his protagonists be crushed by fate?)

  • Nick Jones

    Goddammit, you kids play nice or I’ll SHAKE you.

  • Mark Saleski

    nobody beat Zippy The Pinhead.


  • Hazy Dave

    Lost amid the hubbub is the news that BD is shown without a helmet on his head for the first time ever in the frame where his bandaged stump is revealed…


  • Natalie Davis

    Absolutely — I saw that and screamed for the spouse to come and see BD sans helmet. SU noticed the helmet before the stump: “Wow, I’d always figured BD was bald.”

    Yeah, BD is the sorta dim conservative, but we have been moved by this occurrence and his plight. I can’t wait to see how Trudeau deals with the story — today ‘s strip features a touch of humor.

  • Jim Carruthers

    I think where Doonesbury is going is that BD will wind up in a charity ass-kicking contest (jebus, did I just write that?)

    As for BD’s conservative bona fides, there are many other characters such as Duke (who is a governor in Iraq, and has been killed and revived as a zombie, and Mark’s gay partner who are more representative of conservatives. BD supports the team, he doesn’t think about it.

    Isn’t it odd that the closest most of the USAian newspaper reading public will get to witness to casualties in Iraq will be in a handful of panels in a comic strip? Well, except the newspapers which choose to not carry the strip this week.

  • Al Barger
  • Scott Butki

    Good piece. I think it’s very brave to take a topic so potentially unfunny and to work it into the storylines.

    The Boondocks is my favorite strip currently, with Doonesbury second and For Better or For WOrse third.
    I’m spending part of my days off today and tomorrow reading up the last few books at Borders (since I’m too poor/cheap to buy them)

    I’m going through and reading all related threads.

    To me the fact that Boondocks and Doonesbury do get censored sometimse is one more reason to like them.

  • Scott Butki

    Speaking of serious, how about this Doonesbury take on evolution?